What is the “Republicans’ War on Oceans,” as you call it, and what are you and other legislators doing to uphold President Barack Obama’s National Oceans Policy and protect our oceans, overall?
Each day, our oceans are under assault from numerous threats. Around the world, acidification, rising sea levels and pollution wreak havoc on fragile ocean environments. Here in the United States, marine debris arrives on our shores daily. Just last week, a man in Rio del Mar reported finding a buoy with Japanese lettering which may have arrived from last year’s tsunami. This comes on the heels of a 40-foot Japanese dock that washed up in Oregon. These battles are a national problem that require a national solution.
Just as we need a national policy to address these daily battles occurring up and down our shores, our oceans face a threat on a new front. This new battle is not taking place on the coast or at sea, instead it is being waged in the halls of Congress. Led by Tea Party conservatives, Republicans in Congress have launched a war on our oceans.
Through a coordinated attack on President Obama’s National Ocean Policy, House Republicans have waged this war on our oceans by hijacking the appropriation process, using it to defund any oceans research, education or governance programs. This war is most apparent in the continued budget cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ocean and coastal programs.
Since 2010, NOAA’s ocean and coastal programs have experienced a 14 percent reduction across the board. Last year, I was able to restore some of that funding for essential programs. Unfortunately, this year Tea Party Republicans have returned with an axe—chopping away again at these vital programs.
For instance, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pushed through bipartisan legislation that would reinvest fines levied against BP for their violations during the Deepwater Horizon spill. The funds would be used for a National Endowment for the Oceans. House Republicans removed this common sense provision before final passage of the bill, killing the opportunity to use these fines to establish long-term ocean restoration efforts.
The motives of our opponents in this effort are misguided. This new policy is not about new regulations. Instead, it creates mechanisms to coordinate programs across different federal agencies—through bottom-up, regionally based structures. National Ocean Policy creates healthy oceans through increased government efficiency, not additional bureaucracy.
This policy was developed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. This new direction was needed after two bipartisan commissions raised a red flag about the state of our oceans.
Here in California, sound marine policy is not just about preserving the environment, it is about preserving our way of life. The Central Coast’s economy is tied to the health of our oceans—ours is truly a blue economy. Millions of visitors come to our region each year to take in the natural beauty, injecting dollars into the local economy.
We can all see the positive impact oceans have on our economy as we celebrate the grand opening of the National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center this week. This 12,000 square-foot facility will welcome visitors to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Created in 1992, this sanctuary protects 276 miles of coastline for research, education and public use.
But you cannot save the oceans by saving just one coastline. We need a united effort between all government agencies, across state and federal lines, to ensure we protect them for future generations. What we need is the President’s National Ocean Policy.
This battle is not going to be won or lost in just one session of Congress. Led by the President, ocean leaders here in Congress will fight back to ensure the implementation of the National Ocean Policy.
For the health of our oceans it is time for Republicans to end this ill-conceived war on our oceans.